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Whaling, Once Bygone, May Return Soon

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Whaling, Once Bygone, May Return Soon

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Whaling, Once Bygone, May Return Soon

Whaling, Once Bygone, May Return Soon

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Environmentalists consider the ban on commercial whaling imposed in 1982 to be one of their greatest victories. Now, they are braced for a major setback. For the first time since the ban took effect, pro-whaling nations are poised to take control of the International Whaling Commission, the body that imposed the ban. While it's not likely that the ban will be lifted immediately, big changes are on the way.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Countries that support the return of commercial whaling could win a big victory this week. For the first time in decades, pro-whaling nations may win control of the global body that banned commercial whaling back in 1982.

That body, the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, is currently meeting in the West Indies and as NPR's John Nielsen reports, the vote is expected to be close.

JOHN NIELSEN reporting:

Environmentalists consider the ban on commercial whaling to be one of their greatest victories. And so for more than 20 years, they've fought tooth and nail to keep this ban in place. Their message has always been a simple one.

(Soundbite of 1999 whaling rally)

Unidentified Man: And our battle cry is save the whales. Save the whales. Save the whales.

(Soundbite of cheering)

NIELSEN: That from a rally held in Seattle back in 1999. Similar rallies will be held this weekend, but it's likely that they won't stop a major power shift from taking place at the IWC.

Mr. GAVIN CARTER (IWMC World Conservation Trust): The speculation is that countries that support the regulation of commercial whaling will have a majority at the IWC meeting in St. Kitts.

NIELSEN: Gavin Carter, a spokesman for Japan's whaling industry, says pro-whaling nations are expected to command a two or three-vote majority in the 70-member body. That's nowhere near the three-quarters vote that would be needed to lift the ban immediately. But Joshua Reichert, director of the environmental program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, says the pro-whaling block will be able to do things that lay the groundwork for a vote to lift the ban in the near future.

Mr. JOSHUA REICHERT (Pew Charitable Trusts): Some of those things include changing the voting procedures to make them secret. Abolishing the sanctuary for whales in the Southern Ocean. Dismantling or reducing the importance of the IWC's Conservation Committee. And generally loosening restrictions on whaling.

NIELSEN: Reichert and other environmentalists have charged that this power shift was basically engineered by Japan, one of three nations that has led the effort to lift the ban. The other two are Iceland and Norway. Reichert says Japan used the promise of foreign aid to convince previously disinterested nations like Cambodia and Guatemala to join the whaling group and vote with the pro-whaling block. Japanese officials deny this charge, noting that they also give aid to anti-whaling nations.

Karsten Klepsvik, the leader of Norway's delegation, says whaling nations have every right to revive the commercial hunt. He notes that the original ban was only supposed to last until decimated whale species had recovered. He says it's now clear that some species, like the minke whale, could support a limited commercial kill. In his view, the question now at hand is how big that quota should be.

Mr. KARSTEN KLEPSVIK (Norway IWC Delegation): Those who are against whaling should understand that it's in their own interest to make sure that these quotas do no harm to any of the stocks we are talking about. Either they can do that or they will face the possibility of an IWC collapsing and they will not have any instrument at all to take part in the management of whale stocks.

NIELSEN: Pro-whaling nations like Japan and Norway have repeatedly threatened to quit the IWC if the ban isn't lifted and form their own whaling commission. They also say the rest of the world has neither the legal nor the moral right to declare whales or any other animal untouchable to them. But Joshua Reichert of the Pew Charitable Trusts disagrees.

Mr. REICHERT: We have done that with other animals. With tiger species we've done it. With leopards we've done it. Large, kind of megafauna that people look at and say we should not kill these animals anymore. And that is what drove the whole whaling moratorium.

NIELSEN: The first big vote for the pro-whaling faction at this meeting will come on Saturday, when Japan is expected to push for a move to secret balloting.

John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington.

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